Alcohol and surgery

Last night a patient called me at 11.30 p.m. (after my bedtime) to ask me if she could have a beer. She was recovering from a breast enlargement surgery, Brazilian buttock lift and mini tummy tuck. The cosmetic plastic surgery procedure was ten days ago.
I was initially a bit pissed off. After all she had called the emergency line after hours – a line reserved for true medical emergencies. I initially thought of telling her “NO! NO beer!” but then realized that it might have been an emergency beer she needed and so told her to go ahead and swig one back!

Complications of plastic surgery occur at known rates for infection, bleeding etc. It is important though not to increase your chances of having a complication by limiting factors that delay your healing or give post operative recovery problems. Alcohol causes problems in this period!

Alcohol after cosmetic surgery

The timing of when a patient can start to drink alcohol after cosmetic plastic surgery will depend on a number of factors. The basic factor is that alcohol has a number of effects that can alter postoperative results of a cosmetic patient.

Alcohol as vasodilator of skin

Vasodilation means opening of blood vessels. You may know those ruddy cheeks you get when you have had a few too many drinks. You know, red cheeks along with a warm feeling, slurred speech and bad jokes?  Skin vessels will open to allow more blood into them and rob blood volume from vital organs. You are already dehydrated from surgery and with more loss of fluid from areas that need it- your brain and heart- you will only feel light headed, get nausea and worse!

Alcohol as a nervous system depressant

Alcohol effects our brains by depressing our central nervous system.

Initially this means decreasing our psychological inhibitions and mellowing us out. It also mellows out our breathing rate and brings it down . You may be taking narcotics for pain control — they also decrease your breathing rate. The additive effect can mean that you stop breathing! Not good for a cosmetic surgery recovery.

Alcohol increases vomiting

Another effect of alcohol is to increase our brain’s sensitivity to noxious stimuli and make it easier for us to vomit. Not good if you have had any type of cosmetic surgery. The anesthesia will already have lowered your vomiting threshold. With a tummy tuck, vomiting will be very painful as stomach muscles contract. With a face lift,  increase in blood pressure occurring with vomiting can lead to bleeding.

Alcohol as a diuretic

Alcohol also has the effect of increasing the rate of urine formation (increases your peeing) and as such can lead to dehydration. That is why when you have a hangover, you have a headache. Dehydration causes fluid to leave the area around your brain (cerebrospinal fluid)  which leads to headache. If you are already dehydrated from surgery, the increase in dehydration will only make you feel worse.

You may think that alcohol will allow you to relax after your cosmetic plastic surgery and maybe it will if taken in moderation. However you will be better off taking a Valium to decrease your anxiety and avoid all the other alcohol side effects. Also drink lots of…water!